STOCKBRIDGE -- The recent installation of Pope Francis is expected to be an added blessing for this weekend's annual Divine Mercy Sunday celebration at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy on Eden Hill.
Typically, the religious event draws between 15,000 and 20,000 pilgrims from all over the eastern United States and Canada, with an estimated 17,000 pilgrims the previous two Mercy Sundays, according to the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (MIC).
However, the local order of Marians expect an uptick in attendance this year, given last months' election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
"Pope Francis has rejuvenated the Catholic faith and I expect more people than last year," said the shrine's rector, the Rev. Ken Dos Santos, MIC. "We still have people calling to register bus tours."
As of Wednesday, organizers had to limit to 261 the number of buses that will be allowed Sunday on the shrine's 350-acre campus. Additional off-site parking is available with shuttle-buses continually running to and from Eden Hill.
Divine Mercy Sunday is an international Catholic feast day promoting Jesus' message that he's merciful to everyone and that people should trust in his mercy and lead a compassionate life.
The Friday through Sunday celebration held the weekend after Easter Sunday culminates with the area's largest outdoor Catholic Mass starting at 1 p.m. Sunday. This year's main celebrant is the Rev. Martin D. Holley, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. Holley is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, serving on several subcommittees, including chairman of the panel on African-American Catholics.
Francis' willingness to regularly mingle with the public outside the Vatican and be an advocate for the world's poor has resonated with many Catholics here and abroad, according to the Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' provincial superior.
"He has re-awakened the beautiful side of Catholicism," Chwalek said.
In addition to a rejuvenated faith, shrine officials also expect the newly installed bronze statues depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross -- Jesus' path to crucifixion on Good Friday -- could boost attendance on Eden Hill this weekend and year-round. Overall, more than 70,000 people visit the shrine each year.
"The mystery of Christ's suffering and death manifest his mercy to the highest degree," Chwalek noted. "God sacrificing his only son shows his love and mercy for humanity."
One of five life-like stations in the United States, commissioned by an anonymous benefactor, are along a winding path on a grassy knoll across from the shrine's chapel. The hollow, bronze figures were created by Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz and installed last summer and fall.
In September, they were formally blessed by the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of he Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
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If you go ...
What: Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend
When: Friday through Sunday, with celebration Mass at 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge